Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Everything but a consistently involving story


     At two-and-a-half-hours, Wonder Woman 1984 doesn't have a compelling enough story to keep the movie from wearing out. Gal Gadot returns as Wonder Woman. And director Patty Jenkins again takes charge of a movie that at least in its early going delivers the humor and buoyancy that make superhero movies fun.
    A prologue showing us Wonder Woman as a child stands as a masterful action sequence in which young Diana competes with grown women of her island home in games that recall TV shows in which contestants are pitted against one another on fiendishly designed obstacle courses. 
    The movie then shifts to Washington, D.C. The now-grown Diana, who in case you haven't already figured it out is also Wonder Woman, works at the Smithsonian. She dresses stylishly and avoids anything resembling a social life. 
    She hasn't gotten over losing the love of her life (Chris Pine), a World War I pilot. That happened in the last movie, but as we all know, sadness lingers.
    Sorrow aside, Diana remains Wonder Woman, saving kids at malls in set pieces that assure us Diana hasn't lost her mojo. 
     Enter Barbara (Kristen Wiig), a klutzy bespectacled anthropologist who's beginning work at the Smithsonian. Socially awkward and burdened by a hairdo in which no two strands of hair seem to be traveling in the same direction, Barbara badly needs a pal.  
     And unlike Diana, Barbara also would like to find love. She envies Diana's coolness and preternatural composure.
    While perusing her department's various treasures, Barbara comes across a crystal that she quickly deems worthless and which we immediately understand will be thrown into the plot in a big way, 
    OK, might as well spill the beans: The crystal can fulfill wishes, a power that will be bent toward evil before Wonder Woman's protracted finale.
    Eventually, the movie must get around to a plot. This one involves Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a conman who uses TV to try to persuade ordinary people to make what he calls sure-fire oil investments. Remember, it's 1984 and oil still rules. 
    Lord refers to himself as a "TV personality," not a conman Any resemblance to any real-life public figure must have been purely coincidental.
    Anyway, the crystal falls into Lord's hands and he uses it  (surprise!) to threaten global catastrophe. 
    Oh, I forgot to mention that the crystal's wishing power also brings back Pine's Steve Trevor, which allows Jenkins to add a variety of comic bits (selection of clothing being one) that play on Steve's awe at the '80s world into which he has been reborn. 
     Steve's return also provides Pine with an occasion to apply techniques gleaned from the open-mouth school of acting as he gapes at the special effects.
    Once Steve arrives, the movie becomes a twosome. Diana and Steve travel to far-flung places -- Egypt among them. Their mission: to put an end to Lord's malicious plans. 
    I don't think it's a spoiler to let you know that the villainy is ... well ... only adequate. Pascal gives a pitchman's one note performance. It's almost like watching a comic-book character scream as he tries to lift himself off the page.
    When envy prompts Barbara's transformation into Cheetah, the evil opposite of Wonder Woman, the movie seems more silly than scary.
    Wonder Woman isn't a dreadful misfire, and it's difficult to imagine that we've seen the last of the superhero who speaks to issues of women's power. 
    After its long -- intermittently amusing journey -- Wonder Woman 1984 does some undisguised cheerleading for the truth, make that Truth with a capital "T."
    So here's my truth, subject of course to a bit of relativism that may be unsuited to a comic book world: Wonder Woman 1984 struck me as part engaging entertainment, part overlong franchise entry, part inflated action movie, and one more stop on what seems to be an endless superhero highway.

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